By Otis Kroesen
Whether you call them rotaries, carousels, circulars, or some other dialectal variation, roundabouts are a novelty that are chronically lacking from North American roads. Could these supposedly safer intersections ever show up in European numbers on our subdivisions?
According to Statista, France leads the world in roundabout fanaticism - with 967 roundabouts per million inhabitants, amounting to around 2 percent of intersections. Most countries in Western Europe sit around 400 roundabouts per million.
Compare this to the US’s 73 roundabouts per million inhabitants.
Washington, Wisconsin, and Florida lead the US in the number of roundabouts, each having more than 200 roundabouts in total. In Canada, Quebec leads in the number of roundabouts with a total of around 100.
Milton, Ontario (In Halton County) - The past home of the inventor of the Robertson head screwdriver - isn’t known for much, save it’s abnormal abundance of roundabouts. A quick Openstreetmap glance reveals 11 in the city of 100,000. Termaine Road, the dividing line Between Trafalgar and Nelson Townships, has 4 roundabouts in a six and a half kilometer stretch. Some of them feature beautiful vistas of the Halton Hills.
Halton County’s website features a helpful guide to roundabouts. In addition to the roundabouts in Milton, Halton also boasts another five in Georgetown.
Citing the USA Institute for Highway Safety, the site claims that crashes occur at roundabouts 39% less frequently, with serious crashes occurring 76% less frequently than at intersections with a stop light.
The safety of roundabouts can be credited to a very human reason. As cars approach a roundabout, the centre island blocks their view of the road, causing the driver to instinctively slow down. In a normal scenario with a green light, drivers tend not to slow down and exercise less caution. Counterintuitively, the risk for pedestrians also decreases even if cars normally don’t stop moving, for the same reason - drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians all use more caution in a roundabout.
Roundabouts in Toronto
Due to its lack of modern subdivisions built before roundabouts became a phenomenon (however rare), Toronto has very few roundabouts, at least when compared to a city outside the Americas. The plainest ones exist on Broadway Avenue, Near Eglinton and Bayview, as well as one near Sheppard and Bathurst. Broadway Avenue was built sometime around 1910, although the centre islands were added later.
Toronto also has a 5-way roundabout in Rosedale.
When we think about roundabouts in Toronto, we generally think of Spadina Crescent, home to the Daniels building of UofT. Although not technically a roundabout (The “roundabout” is considered a street in its own right), It still features on most lists of roundabouts in Toronto. If you consider it a true roundabout, It would be the oldest in the city, planned by notable reform politician William Baldwin and built slowly beginning in 1918.
Why are Roundabouts not popular?
Most Canadian drivers were not taught to maneuver a roundabout. They weren’t nearly common enough until recently to merit educating new drivers on, although roundabouts are now on the driving student’s curriculum.
Roundabouts in Canada are often heavily signed, including one in St. Thomas, Elgin county with a flashy sign instructing drivers on how to turn properly.
However forgiving roundabouts are to collisions - reduced speed can still be enough to cause accidents. Waterloo County, dubbed Ontario’s capital of roundabouts, saw injury-causing collisions with pedestrians upon the addition of more roundabouts to the county’s total of 40.
They are more expensive to build, although in the long-term roundabouts have lower maintenance costs. Roundabouts also make snow plowing easier.
Pedestrians have information to learn about the charismatic intersections as well. It is forbidden to cut across the center island - instead pedestrians should walk along sidewalks and follow crosswalks at each corner of the roundabout.